Nasa probe blasts off to the Sun after 60-year project

Nasa probe blasts off to the Sun after 60-year project

NASA has successfully launched a spacecraft destined to become the fastest man-made object ever as it gets closer to the sun than we've been before.

Liftoff took place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the USA early on Sunday.

On the final three orbits, PSP flies to within 3.8 million miles of the sun's surface - more than seven times closer than the current record-holder for a close solar pass, the Helios 2 spacecraft, which came within 27 million miles in 1976, and about a tenth as close as Mercury, which is, on average, about 36 million miles from the Sun.

The mission, which has been sought after for 60 years, was first scheduled to launch on July 31, but was pushed back several times due to a variety of technical issues.

As the Parker Solar Probe probe orbits the sun, it will experience extreme radiation and temperatures as high as 1,377C - close to the melting point of steel.

The unprecedented sun-skimming probe that lifted off today from the United States is set to study the "solar winds" proposed in the paper by Dr Eugene Newman Parker, who has now become the first living scientist to have mission named after him.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails and getting it launched to thinking about all the interesting things, which I don't know yet, (that) will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said in a NASA interview.

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, will have to survive hard heat and radiation conditions.

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In particular, it is hoped to give scientists a greater understanding of solar wind storms that have the potential to knock out the power on Earth.

Nothing from Planet Earth has ever hit that kind of speed.

"I have learnt a very important lesson of my professional scientific career from him: to be generous to the ideas of others, as long as they are not obviously wrong, and even if they contradict my own personal views", he said. The spacecraft will fly through the sun's outer atmosphere, the super-hot corona. She urged it to "go touch the sun!" "We've looked at it".

"We are thrilled with the launch and humbled to have been entrusted with this mission", Tory Bruno, ULA's President and CEO told Space.com following the launch. "But we have to go there". Sensors on the spacecraft will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times. With a communication lag time of 16 minutes, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun. The trick was making the spacecraft compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds and durable enough to withstand the punishing environment.

"Just waiting for the data now", he said.

More than 1 million names are aboard the spacecraft, submitted last spring by space enthusiasts, as well as photos of Parker, the man, and a copy of his 1958 landmark paper on solar wind.

Scientists have been debating these questions for decades but NASA said technology has only come far enough in the past few decades to make the solar mission a reality.

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